These are the top books on craft and process I’ve come across. Do you have any to add to the list?
Great News: My friend Stephanie has many exciting things to share about her journey through publishing.
Good News: The first four chapters of This Novel are thoroughly revised and nearly polished: thirteen more chapters to go. I researched the heck out of 1945 and now I’m wondering—what was the most elitist champagne to be served in 1988? Any ideas? Give me your 80s memories.
Bad News: Georgia continues fall from grace, grace being the elevation granted by one tiny thread holding it up above Mississippi. I’m talking about education [sic].
This week I’ve added some words to This Novel. It is not a tremendous amount, but considering I’d set the project aside for several months and had to get back into it, I feel all right about it. The key to producing material is accepting that early drafts are UGLY and BAD. The key is revision: four-fold, five-fold, however long it takes, however many times a writer has to see (vision) things again.
I share Anne Lamott‘s essay “Shitty First Drafts,” from Bird by Bird, with my composition students, but I’m considering teaching it at the beginning of my literature classes as well. Too many students have the erroneous assumption that they can simply sit down and think for a minute and then type a three page literary analysis paper and be “done.” I try and build tasks of serious revision into our course schedule, but ultimately it is up to the student to give a shit or not. Lamott’s essay explains the necessity of bad first (and second) drafts and clearly articulates one of my most overused teacher phrases, “Writing IS thinking.” Lamott also examines the anxiety that surrounds writing, the anxiety to produce, to be good enough. So, is bad writing okay? Yes, it is a means to better writing, to revision. Is it okay to present it as a final product?–not so much, unless the purpose of said final product is to examine ‘badness,’ as does Steve Almond in his Bad Poetry Corner.
I read an article at Salon by Laura Miller, “Bad Writing: What is it Good for?” I appreciate Miller’s discussion of the abundance of crappy prose. The internet provides the perfect showcase. Miller takes various angles in discussing crappy prose, referencing a list of bad books and Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner. The list of bad books from the American Book Review is tenuous, but I can get behind Almond’s pursuit. The key for the success of Almond’s site is that he already has a marked fan base; he has more than established himself, he is almost an ethos, a cause within cyberspace. One can either praise such self-promotion, which I do because I like his work, or one can find it trite and audacious. I find it fun. I, lacking a ‘platform’ and prurient exposure, should certainly shy away from trying to create any sort of medium out of the horrendous song lyrics and poems that my fifteen year old mind may have birthed. THAT needs to stay in the past. I will never claim to be a poet, probably because I am scarred from reading my teenage endeavors. No need to inflict that adolescent angst on my friends in cyberspace.
Bad writing is a necessary precursor to the good stuff. So, get thee bad writing down. And then, work it up again and again.
Joyce Carol Oates’ essay, “I Am Sorry to Inform You,” in the 2010 The Atlantic fiction issue is a moving examination of loss, grief, and life. Oates discusses losing her husband of 48 years, Raymond Smith. This essay made me love Oates even more, and the level of truth, painful truth, she articulates gives the reader affirmation and new words. Oates speaks what many of us cannot articulate. This examination of grief, life, and profession is a comfort. And I find the below photo, by Eva Haggdahl, to be simply beautiful.
Why were folks a bit grumpy in grad school? At least, this is how I remember it. A department sans graduate students is downright peachy. This has nothing to do with the individual personalities and everything to do with individuals not being stressed to the gills about a million things. Graduate students in the Humanities deal with a lot of crap–that’s a vague descriptor, but trying to describe some of the complicated issues a graduate student might face would make most folks’ eyes glaze over.
Patricia Cohen, in “The Long-Haul Degree” in the New York Times, explains some of the problems, including the “more than nine years” on average to complete a degree, dissertating, “patching together a mix of grants and wages for helping teach undergraduate courses–a job that eats into research time,” and ultimately facing a bad job market with an increased number of adjunct positions and a receding amount of tenure-track plus benefits type jobs. So, back to the cause of grad school mania, malaise, or grumpiness. Patricia Cohen writes,
Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and another longtime critic of the Ph.D. production process, notes: “Lives are warped because of the length and uncertainty of the doctoral education process.” In his new book, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” he writes, “Put in less personal terms, there is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.”
I like Menand’s phrases “lives are warped” and “social inefficiency.” Cohen highlights problems with the system of financing, the proposal of broadening research options for degree candidates, and the changing job market. This is a must read for anyone who is currently in, has been in, or is planning to enroll in a graduate program in the Humanities.
The large amount of data and research collected by Teach for America provides the basis for Ripley’s discussion. Ripley finds an answer:
“At the end of the day,”says Timothy Daly at the New Teacher Project, “it’s the mind-set that teachers need–a kind of relentless approach to the problem.”
What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance–not just an attitude, but a track record. […] Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleagues have actually quantified the value of perseverance. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in November 2009, they evaluated 390 Teach for America instructors before and after a year of teaching. Those who initially scored high for “grit”–defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, and measured using a multiple choice test–were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer.